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A CLOSER INSPECTION OF EXCUSES
A Sermon for Judgment Sunday - 3 March 2019
By Fr. Haralambos Giokas
The real reason God exiled the first-fashioned humans from Paradise can be determined with accuracy. As strange as it may sound, it was not because of their disobedience -per se- to God’s commandment. The first-fashioned humans did not leave Paradise immediately after their disobedience; after committing that sin, Adam and Eve became aware of their nakedness, they became ashamed, they felt fear and they hid themselves, BUT they did not yet leave Paradise. God gave them a time margin for repentance.
After leaving them all day to reap the consequences of their actions (fear, cowardice, confusion), God descended that evening to find them and make one last attempt to save them: “And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day; and Adam and his woman hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God, among the trees of the garden. “ (Gen.3:8)
But God is not a material being, so how come He was “walking”? God is omnipresent; How come He “descended to find” Adam? God is omniscient; Why is He questioning Adam, as if He didn’t already know? God became similar in behaviour to Adam, because Adam had failed to be in “the likeness” of God.
The moment that God appeared before Adam and conversed with him is both critical and shocking. It is reminiscent of God’s Day of Judgment.
According to the Bible:
“The Lord God called to Adam, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ And he said, ‘I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.’ And He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Did you eat of the tree, of which I commanded you that you should not eat?’ And the man said, ‘The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.’ And the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this, that you have done? And the woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate’.” (Gen 3:9-13)
It is very clear, that the reason God is “questioning” Adam is to exhort him to repentance and confession, and not because He “doesn’t know” what they had done. It was His last attempt to keep Adam near Him. But Adam and Eve made the wrong move. While they did in fact admit that they had disobeyed – because they couldn’t hide what they had done – they resorted to an unprecedented invention, that is, excuses: “‘The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.’ ... The serpent deceived me, and I ate’
They resort to excuses, and in fact in an accusative manner. Their replies imply that God was responsible: “The woman whom You gave to be with me... ” YOU gave her to me, so it’s YOUR fault!”
THAT was the red line Adam should not have crossed: he should NOT have given an excuse; he accused both Eve AND God, instead of accusing himself. After that day end of his soul’s life, all the ensuing generations after Adam were condemned to wallow in the darkness of excuses.
A commonly observed phenomenon: if you scold a little child who has only just learnt to utter its first words, it will “instinctively” defend itself, with an excuse. THIS is the legacy of the Fall that should preoccupy us and scare us: how does an innocent little child formulate an excuse? Who taught it? The sickness of self-justification has been planted deep inside our soul, since the Fall of our forefather Adam, as a defence mechanism, as a need to hide our fear and shame.
Excuses removed us from Paradise, and the habit of giving excuses is what keeps us steadfastly out of Paradise. Because by resorting to excuses, we are simply keeping our sins to ourselves. It’s like saying “I am not dirty; I only appear that way – I don’t need cleaning”. But Christ had stressed that He had come to save sinners, and not those who have vindicated themselves with excuses. In John’s Gospel, we hear the Lord saying: “For judgment I have come into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind.” Then some of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these words, and said to Him, “Are we blind also?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see’, therefore your sin remains.” (John 9:39-41). In other words: because you are vindicating yourselves and claiming that ‘you can see’ - instead of admitting you are blind – that’s why you will remain blind, and your sin will remain with you.
Elsewhere, the Lord says “...’You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God’...” (Luke 16:15).
An Abba was once asked, what is the worst thing about people that God despises? The Abba replied: “Excuses”.
Everyone has sinned: Adam, the Pharisees, and all people. Do we sin incessantly, with thoughts, words and actions? Well, repentance is right next to us and it can purge us. Excuses hinder us from being benefited by repentance. In the long run, there is no excuse for excuses. Saint John the Chrysostom wrote that “To fall is human, to persist is diabolical, to repent is divine”.
As we noted in today’s Gospel reading, during the Final Judgment, and after placing the people to His left and His right, Christ will have two brief conversations with each group separately. The two dialogues reveal the virtues of the righteous and the wiliness of the unrighteous; these become evident, in the replies that are given respectively:
“...and the righteous reply to Him, saying: ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and fed You, or thirsting and gave You to drink?’ And the King shall say to them: ‘Verily I say to you, if you have done so to even one of my lesser brethren, then you have done so to Me’...”
The reply of the righteous ones does not contain wile; on the contrary, it reveals that everything they had done was with their heart and unobtrusively, never seeking any reciprocation. But the response of the unrighteous ones does not reveal an innocent ignorance. We note here an intentionally wily response:
“...Then they (the unrighteous ones) replied to Him, saying: ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?” Then He shall reply to them, saying: ‘Verily I say to you, if you have not done so to even one of my lesser brethren, then you have not done so to Me’...” (Matth. 25:34-45)
And where is their wile here? They ask Him, “when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and DID NOT minister to You?” They pose a question to which they already know the answer! They are not genuinely asking Him to find out, but are intentionally pretending to be ignorant, as an excuse. Hadn’t they noticed that the Lord had just explained to the righteous during His conversation with them, that: “if you had done so to even one of My lesser brethren, you have done so to Me”?
When intelligence and smartness are used for evil ends and for excuses, it is called wile and hypocrisy. They secretly strive to exonerate themselves, because they (supposedly) “didn’t understand” and actually accused Christ of “hiding from them” – which was a wrong move: “We didn’t recognize You... We didn’t realize it was You... It’s Your fault...” They dare to accuse the Judge – and during the very Hour of the Great and Final Judgment!
They use excuses, because that is their way of hiding their obduracy. They give excuses, because that was their means of “winning” in the world. That was what they had learnt, in order to always “win”. Just how foolish are these “clever ones”? If excuses had removed us from Paradise, how is it ever possible for us to use them as an instrument for re-entry into Paradise?
My beloved brothers and sisters,
In His infinite mercy, the Son and Logos of God assumed flesh and became man. He walked alongside us in our place of exile, just like He did that evening in the Garden of Paradise. He came to our evening also, to seek out His lost and scared sheep, to give us one more chance. He was, is, and will be, the only Righteous and innocent one. And yet, from His Birth inside a cave for livestock, up until His Crucifixional Sacrifice, He lived utterly wronged, compared to what He really deserved. He never complained for Himself. When on trial, He could have provided excuses to the court which would have proved His innocence, with the power of His words or with the powers of His divinity, but He didn’t. He submitted Himself to even that horrific death penalty, and went patiently, despite His immense suffering and all the injustice, without saying anything, like a lamb to slaughter...
This was His way of giving us a resonating lesson: “You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. [...] I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done ...” (John 13:13-15).
If He – to Whom the Father gave Judgment and He is indeed the Judge – did not use excuses, but left everything up to the Father, then we, who want to be called Christ's disciples, should stay clear and be afraid of giving excuses, the way we fear and stay clear of fire, so that we may hope for “a good defense before the dread Judgment Seat of Christ”.
Translation by A.N.
Article published in English on: 10-3-2019.
Last update: 10-3-2019.